Manuel Pellegrini rang the changes, the Etihad rang out rejoicing in victory and just about everybody in the 47,267 crowd would happily have the rung ref Jonathan Moss’ neck!
‘The Engineer’ – Pellegrini’s nickname – re-tuned his Manchester City machine after both Aston Villa, but more tellingly, Bayern Munich, had thrown dirty great spanners into the works, to see his much changed City side beat their Everton bogey.
In the same fashion that 1-3 had flattered City after they were annihilated by Bayern, so too the 3-1 margin was kind to Roberto Martinez’s team, who for so long have been City’s nemesis.
An absorbing, open and attacking game was marred by Moss – not a criticism of the Etihad playing surface – but an observation of a somewhat stout individual who stood out for all the wrong reasons.
The standard of officiating in the Premier League nowadays is subjective and contentious at the best of times. Yes, it’s universally acknowledged the speed of the game and antics of some players who cheat and dive, make it an extremely challenging job.
Irate fans often question the judgements, abilities even the integrity of referees and their ‘assistants’, but fair to say most who watched this match would concur that Jonathan Moss was frighteningly inept.
His colleague Phil Dowd, renowned for his roundness of midriff has managed to shed two stone during the summer to improve his fitness levels. If asked how he did it, don’t be surprised if Dowd revealed that his extra 28lbs was grafted onto Mr Moss’ ample frame.
Normally 30 yards away from play at any given time, it appeared the Yorkshire official’s (I resisted a Yorkie bar pun) game plan was to cover a minimum distance, whilst delving out the maximum number of cards – nine all told.
This would tie in with his new charity ‘Yards for Lards’ and a sponsorship deal with Clintons. Looking resplendent in his banana custard-coloured shirt, Moss was a yellow peril throughout proceedings, effectively spoiling a keenly contested encounter because he was comparatively clueless as to what was going on.
Pre-kick off rumours were circulating that ‘The Engineer’ had taken his jigsaw to Joe Hart, cut him from the team, and replaced him in the hope that Romanian keeper, Costel Pantilimon would provide a better fit, at least in the short-term.
When the team sheets were revealed Joe was still in there– thank goodness. However, Richards, Clichy, Nastasic, Dzeko , Nasri and Navas had not survived the cull, although some might call it a rotation policy!
Zabaleta, Kolarov, Lescott, Milner, Silva and Negredo came in and, it has to be said, City were all the better for it…but then again Everton aren’t Bayern Munich.
What ultimately turned out to be a very efficient and encouraging City display, didn’t get off to a flyer as Romelu Lukaku nearly scored for the visitors within 20 seconds, thwarted by a Lescott-Hart combination.
The City duo didn’t fair so well in the 16th minute when the big Belgian striker collected a long ball punted upfield, cut in from the right, easily beating a back-tracking Lescott, and placed the ball wide of Hart, despite him getting a hand on it.
1-0 Everton and cue pernicious commentaries as the media seize on every scrap of ‘evidence’ to besmirch the England keeper’s reputation and abilities.
At just 26 years, Hart is comparatively young in goalkeeping terms, and undoubtedly there are malevolent elements ‘out to get’ Joe. As to why, who knows – it undermines the player, therefore the team, the club, causes upset and makes for easy copy for lazy journalists, embittered by City’s rise to prominence.
Within 60 seconds City gave a giant ‘V’ sign to the vultures hoping to feed off the negativity,when a certain Beast from Sevilla fired home after a superb assist from Yaya Toure.
The Big Ivorian, surrounded by four Everton defenders, slipped a perfect through ball to Negredo who placed the ball to Tim Howard’s right and into the net.
City’s lightning riposte meant the vociferous Toffees support were immediately put back in their wrappers and quietened.
Now playing at a tempo that was severely stretching the Goodison side’s resistance, City fashioned a well-crafted free kick involving Fernandinho, Milner Silva and Aguero, with the Argentine’s shot going agonizingly close.
Vincent Kompany departed the field of play for a second time this season with a possible re-occurence of the groin injury that saw him miss three PL fixtures against Cardiff, Hull & Stoke. The extent of the injury and ramifications are still to be determined but it’ll be a massive loss if the skipper is once again sidelined.
Aguero – having a poor game by his own impeccable standards – then inexplicably stumbled over his own foot after Negredo played the ball through, with the striker in ‘acres’ of space in front of goal.
Sergio persevered and was duly rewarded on the stroke of half-time. With Silva creating the opening, the magical little Spaniard slid the ball down the right side of the Merseysider’s defence.
Aguero locked onto it with his laser-guided right foot, outpaced ex-City skipper, Sylvain ‘Dustbin’ Distin and sent a low exocet-like strike whizzing across Howard from an acute angle.
It was a well deserved lead on the stroke of half time, with City further buoyed by the statistic that they have yet to lose a Premier League game when Aguero scores.
Everton’s initial purpose had dissipated, despite nice touches from Lukaku, the young Barkley and the surprisingly annoying Naismith on the left flank, making life uncomfortable for Zabaleta.
As the match wore on the sight of Martinez in the technical area – not Gollum the Glaswegian Gargoyle – and the lack of Fellaini the mop headed marauder on the field, somehow defined that this was going to be City’s day.
Much nicer to have City’s past tormentors in the red of Manure, where they are a whole lot easier to beat.
City’s win was wrapped up by a Seamus Coleman foul on Zabaleta leading to the penalty that Aguero – with help from Tim Howard’s head – managed to convert.
The Everton keeper so nearly saved it, but despite his anguish, BT Sports viewers were spared a torrent of the American keeper’s Tourette Syndrome affliction.
The home fans were more likely to be cursing a missed opportunity to acknowledge the past contributions of Gareth Barry – now on loan at Goodison – and would have appreciated a brief GB appearance on the pitch, albeit suited and booted to effectively say ‘thanks & goodbye’.
City’s 100% home record in the PL is next challenged by Norwich – the Canaries who had the temerity to win at the Etihad in a surreal and very lacklustre finale to last season.
Before that City need to keep their PL title ambitions on track on the road and ‘engineer’ some much needed away wins at West Ham and Chelsea. In between the trips to London, City fly to Moscow for a vital Champions League contest with CSKA.
If City can capitalise on their travels and take all nine points they’ll be near the peak if not at the peak of the PL, and potentially 90 minutes from the knockout stage of the UCL. That would lift any lingering clouds surrounding Pellegrini’s appointment.
Oh yes, and no more frights from the Bogeyman down the East Lancs Road!
By David Walker